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Shadows on Silk - 02
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. Houses around Surin in Thailand were once a hub of cottage silk production. A housewife was taking care of each step, from rearing worms to weaving.

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Shadows on Silk - 03
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. Pimnipa chats with her aunt about global warming. This is a really “hot” topic in the village nowadays. Both women once used to rear silkworms.

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Shadows on Silk - 04
Surin, Thailand
By Gloria Kurnik
30 Apr 2013

Isaan, Thailand. A woman shows off her sericulture. Traditionally, the threshing floor is wetted to keep the temperature down. Modern appliances like AC had been installed to fight the rising temperatures.

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Shadows of Silk
Surin
By Transterra Editor
30 Apr 2013

Surin is located in the rural east of Thailand, in the province Isaan. Agriculture, the main industry of the region, was once supplemented by sericulture. Such an arrangement was making the households self-sufficient, ensuring food on the table and shirts on one’s back. My host, Pimnipa, used to grow and weave silk herself, but two years ago an extremely hot summer killed all her silkworms putting her out of business. Subsequently, she had to abandon her loom. The raw silk-thread is not easy to get and the prices went up, as only few suppliers managed to survive. Pimnipa is my guide to what remains of the local silk industry. She takes me under the roofs of the sparse houses that are still involved in silk-making, so that I can learn about the process. Several years ago each household was self-reliant but today people had to specialize to get by. Those who grow silk, usually don’t weave, and those who dye thread, don’t rear the worms and so on. It’s not a solvent business anymore. Nowadays, the climate change and the low profitability also top the reasons for the widespread reluctance to invest in sericulture. It takes both, time and patience. Silkworms are voracious eaters, and yet they're extremely fragile and vulnerable to insects, noises or heat. Recent very hot summers resulting in hundreds of baskets full of dead caterpillars left a large hole in the finances of many villagers. Like in Pimnipa’s case, those baskets were then put aside never to be looked at again. Each handmade silk cloth is unique and easily recognizable because of its irregularities and occasional knots. The patterns are often a signature of the village or even a family, secretly guarded for generations. In spite of its beauty, the handmade silk attracts less and less buyers every year. Due to the time and labor required to make a piece of fabric, this product is not cheap. Since the markets are overflowing with cheap factory-made silk from China, small looms struggle with distribution. A loom on the porch was once a sight as common as a buffalo in the Surin villages. Today more often one can see those tools in the far corner of the backyards, like sad decaying carcasses of the by-gone self-sufficiency. But there are a couple areas where the hand-woven silk brings great returns. Ban Thasawang is one such village, a place of great renown as it produces the silk for the Royal Family itself. The less fortunate weavers are mostly Pimnipa’s age or older. Their daughters and granddaughters are unlikely to learn the craft. The youth flees from the villages to the cities, and even if they remain, they indulge in far more “sophisticated” pastimes like watching TV or taking drugs. The household silk production, a vehicle for women empowerment and a source of their pride, is in the hands of the passing generation. And without a rescue plan they may die alongside. Photos by Gloria Kurnik